Giving Back: From Africa With Love

Dawn breaks on Addis Ababa like any city across the world. A rooster crows in the distance and a braying donkey can be heard above the swelling sounds of morning traffic. This is Africa. Yet somehow, Ethiopia feels like coming home.

On first encounter, locals here address me like one of their own. The color of my skin, the texture of my hair, the cast of my eyes, are all familiar to them. But upon second reckoning of my clothing, the camera bag on my shoulder, my manner of speaking, they realize that I am a foreigner – a “forengee.” Yet still, I am welcome. It’s up to me to impress upon those I meet that I have come to love their homeland, my motherland, and that I want to stay a bit longer.

Despite my own genetic connection to this place, I believe anyone who visits here might feel a similar sense of kinship. In our travels, I believe that we often see a common bond between ourselves and others; a shared humanity that will likely be the salvation of our race on this planet. This is a letter from Africa with love.

The first leg of my journey brought me to hike and climb the Gheralta Cliffs of Tigray. With a belay assist from me, my friend Majka Burhardt, also a climber and writer, set four new rock climbing routes to be enjoyed by a group of western donors to a philanthropic organization called Imagine One Day. This group builds schools in remote regions of Ethiopia. With local administrators and staff, these institutions are meant to not only educate children, but to also be economically sustainable.

The aid IOD provides gives local communities here the opportunity to build a better quality of life. The money they raise and distribute creates a model of development that can be maintained through the future. Members of the communities where the schools are built dedicate a portion of their economy, based perhaps on agriculture or light manufacturing, to support them. Smart philanthropic contributions like this will allow people in need to become directly involved in their own recovery and wards against crisis in the event of sudden economic or environmental collapse.

Various IOD donors visited a few of the schools they helped to create. Majka and other guides also took them on several adventure outings including mountain biking, a trek to explore fourth century monastic churches carved from sandstone, and a climb of the routes she set.

On our way back to Addis, Majka and I made a stop to visit a hospital in the city of Mekelle. Of particular interest is the creation there of a new clinic that treats many people throughout the region who suffer from cataract blindness and glaucoma. We were both made aware of this program through our mutual friend Dr. Geoff Tabin, a Salt Lake City optometrist and climber who established the Himalayan Cataract Project. Caused primarily by chronic infections and malnutrition, most cases of cataract blindness are preventable or treatable with surgery.

As we walked the hallways of the hospital, our guide Dr. Tilahun Kiros introduced us to several of his patients. Some who recently received cornea transplants, others who have had cataracts removed. Each, Dr. Kiros said, had an excellent chance of a full recovery and restored vision.

I sincerely support the efforts of organizations like Imagine One Day that create systematic programs to correct the long-range problems of those suffering in Ethiopia.

Others are also focused on the cause and offering aid. I watched an interview with Melinda Gates, wife of Bill Gates, who is one of the wealthiest people in the world. Through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the couple is trying to help improve the lives of those in extreme poverty. “Aid is being incredibly effective,” she said. “We’re seeing on the ground that giving is really making a difference.”

But we can’t just write a check and be done with it. It’s important to have a more vested interest. “It’s not just giving money,” Melinda Gates added. “It’s getting involved in a cause and giving of our hearts and minds.”

That’s really what has brought me to Africa. I hope that the stories I bring back will help others realize that despite all the need in the world, there are people out there giving of themselves and making a difference. Even the smallest contribution of your time or money can help. What matters most is that you take the time to become engaged and take action.


James Mills is the mastermind behind The Joy Trip Project, a newsgathering and reporting organization that covers outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living. The Joy Trip Project is made possible with the support of its sponsors Patagonia, Rayovac and New Belgium Brewing Company.

This post is used by permission of James Mills.

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